Air Station Cape Cod, Massachusetts

June 3, 2022

Air Station Cape Cod, Massachusetts

A photo of Air Station Cape Cod

Original Location: 
Otis Air Force Base 

Current Location:

Date of Commission:
29 August 1970

Still in service.

Historical Remarks:

Air Station Cape Cod patchCoast Guard Air Station Cape Cod was established on August 29, 1970 when the Coast Guard Air Station at Salem, MA and the Coast Guard Air Detachment at Quonset Point, RI were consolidated, providing a much greater degree of efficiency in the maintenance and operations of the Sikorsky HH-52A Sea Guard and the Grumman HU-16E Albatross.  These two versatile amphibians served at the air station until they were replaced by longer-ranged aircraft in the early 1980’s.

The medium range rescue Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican helicopter emerged at Air Station Cape Cod in 1976 and worked side-by-side with its counterpart the HH-52A, a short range rescue helicopter, until 1984 when the HH-3F assumed the duties of both aircraft. The HH-3F enabled the air station to reach farther off shore and its greater payload allowed it to carry more equipment and survivors.  It was replaced by the Sikorsky HH-60J Jayhawk, a new medium range rescue helicopter, in 1991.  The HU-16E Albatross was replaced when the Coast Guard entered the jet age.  In March 1983 the last HU-16E in the Coast Guard inventory, HU-16E CGNR 7250 was officially retired at Air Station Cape Cod.  It is proudly displayed at the air station.  Its replacement, the HU-25A Guardian, a turbofan jet manufactured by the Falcon Jet Corporation, can fly for over 600 miles at 400 knots, orbit for 30 minutes, drop survival equipment while pinpointing the position of a distressed vessel.  The Guardian has proven itself vital in drug interdiction as well as SAR with state-of-the-art radar and sensory packages on board. Cape Cod also has the only HU-25 aircraft in the Coast Guard equipped with Aireye, an airborne oil spill tracking and mapping system.  The Aireye side-looking-airborne-radar (SLAR) excels not only at monitoring oil pollution, but in tracking icebergs in support of the International Ice Patrol.

The primary mission of the United States Coast Guard since its beginning has always been the protection and safety of life and property at sea.  From 1970 and for the next two decades, air crews from Air Station Cape Cod launched on over 6700 cases, saved nearly 2400 lives, and prevented the loss of $340 million worth of property.  Included in these statistics are cases which are respectfully referred to as "The Big One."  In December of 1976, the Liberian freighter Argo Merchant broke up after running aground on Nantucket Shoals.  The disaster brought marine environment protection to the attention of the nation.  The cargo carrier Eldia went aground on one of the Cape’s outer beaches in early spring of 1984.  An Air Station Cape Cod HH-3F, CG-1491, safely evacuated the 23-man crew of the Eldia in winds in excess of 80 knots when the ship was in danger of breaking up.

Probably the air station’s most famous rescue occurred as recent as 1987. In March of that year, the Soviet Motor Vessel Komsomolets Kirgizzii sank 200 nautical miles south of the Massachusetts coast. Three of Air Station Cape Cod’s helicopter rescued the 37-man crew from the Russian ship in 20 foot seas an winds gusting to 50 knots with no major injuries.  For their extraordinary efforts, the air crews were invited to the White House by President Ronald Reagan to be honored in a Rose Garden ceremony.  The event marked the first time a Coast Guard aircrew has been so honored.

Yet another "Big One" developed on December 28, 1988.  The 256-foot container vessel Lloyd Bermuda capsized in 35-foot seas throwing its crew into the icy waters.  An HU-25A Falcon jet and two HH-3F helicopters set out in 50 knot winds and poor visibility to locate the survivors.  Working with limited fuel in the worst of conditions, the crews successfully rescued six men, four of which survived.  When it was all over, the crew of one helicopter had logged 9.7 hours in the demanding flight conditions.

The 350 Coast Guard men and women at Air Station Cape Cod fulfill many missions. The four helicopters and six fixed-wing jets also play a major role in Coast Guard Law Enforcement activities, Presidential Security, Maritime Environmental Protection and Response, International Ice Patrol, and logistics support of the several offshore lighthouses of New England. As the largest active-duty command on the 36 square mile Massachusetts Military Reservation, Air Station Cape Cod is also responsible for operation of most of the support services on the base. This includes over 630 housing units, a large medical clinic, a complete exchange and grocery, and many family-oriented services such as a movie theater, library, chapel, child care center, and golf course.

Historic Photo Gallery

Unless otherwise indicated all photos are official U.S. Coast Guard photographs.  Any original caption information is included in the text beneath each photo, along with a date, if known.  Click on the thumbnail to access a 300 dpi image.

A drawing of Air Station Cape Cod

Original photo caption: "U.S. Coast Guard Cape Cod Air Station [;] Praeger - Kavanagh - Waterbury [;] Engineers - Architects"; photo dated 1966; Photo No. 1CGD-1246601; photographer unknown.

An aerial view of Air Station Cape Cod

Original photo caption: "District: First Coast Guard District [;] Name of Project: CG AIRSTA, Cape Cod [;] Location: Otis Air Force Base [;] Designer: Praeger Kavanagh Waterbury (Under Default) [;] Contractor: Stamell Construction, Inc. (Under Default) - $2,852,866.00 [;] Volpe Construction Co. (Completion of terminated contract [;] Contract Award Price: $3,257,800.00"; no date/photo number; photographer unknown.

Air Station Cape Cod's entrance sign

Original photo caption: "The entrance to the Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod.  The Air Station is located on Otis Air Force Base."; photo is dated 24 July 1999; photo number 990724-I-9954-500 (FR); photo by PA3 Bridget Hieronymus, USCG.

Air Station Cape Cod's hangar

Original photo caption: "A U.S. Coast Guard HU-60 J Jayhawk helicopter sits ready in an Air Station Cape Cod hangar."; photo is dated 22 July 1999; photo number 990722-I-5664M-522 (FR); photo by PA1 Pete Milnes, USCG.

Air Station Cape Cod hangar

Original photo caption: "The wooden wall that conceals the wreckage of John F. Kennedy's Piper Saratoga airplane [in] Air Station Cape Cod's hangar.  John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn and her sister Lauren Bessette . . . died when Kennedy's [aircraft] crashed into the sea July 17."; photo is dated 22 July 1999; photo number 990722-I-5644M-501 (FR); photo by PA1 Pete Milnes, USCG.

Historical Sources:

Air Station Files, U. S. Coast Guard Historian's Office

Arthur Pearcy.  A History of U. S. Coast Guard Aviation.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1989.